Local teen donates gear
Lesley Stevenson | Monday, September 1, 2014
When high school junior Anne Marie Wright witnessed the Haiti women’s national soccer team practicing on a South Bend soccer complex without fully functional equipment, she could not rectify the team’s lack of supplies with their status as potential World Cup contenders.
“You would have to wait and practice without cleats or just sit on the sidelines,” she said. “So people would have to go over to the side of the building to get water to drink out of the spigot of a hose. Nobody brought water bottles; nobody had bags.
“… They wore the same clothes every day to come to practice. It was community clothing; they all shared it. They didn’t have their own stuff. So basically that really prompted me to think, ‘I have to do something about this, this team is training for the World Cup.’”
This summer, Wright, 17, a South Bend native and student at Culver Academies in Culver, Ind., heard about the Notre Dame athletic apparel clearance sale at the Compton Family Ice Arena held June 12 and realized her opportunity to take action.
“When I heard that Notre Dame was switching to Under Armour, I thought, ‘That’s a great opportunity, they have to get rid of all this adidas stuff, what are they going to do with it?’” she said. “… So I called and I tried to contact a lot of people at Notre Dame to get the donated equipment and it didn’t work out very well. But there was a big sale that happened this summer, so we went there and got a ton of gear.
“We got cleats for every girl on the team, we got t-shirts, spandex, sports bras … We got stuff for every single girl on the team.”
Although Wright’s parents purchased the equipment and apparel this summer, Wright said she took ultimate responsibility for funding the donation. For her 17th birthday, she asked friends and family to forgo typical gifts in favor of cash that she could put towards the team.
“I gave up all my birthday gifts and got my parents and aunts and uncles and my friends to, instead of giving me birthday gifts, to give me money to support the cause,” she said. “… We’ve only raised I think $500, so my parents still paid a lot of money for it. So I’m still raising money.”
Wright first joined forces with the Haitian national team in the summer of 2013, when she was practicing with her sister’s team on the Indiana Invaders FC field in South Bend. The Hatian team had been holding practice on the field since early 2013, after the team’s new Goshen-based coach, Shek Borkowski, relocated the team to the United States, she said.
“The reason that they’re practicing in South Bend is the earthquake in Haiti in 2010,” Wright said. “Their soccer headquarters collapsed and their coach was there and he passed away.”
Borkowski initially saw Wright practicing with her 13-year-old sister Mary Kate Wright and approached her to ask if she could play on one of his showcase teams. Anne Marie Wright was already past the age limit, but in the summer months after she first met Borkowski, she began to practice more frequently with the Haitian team and formed close bonds with the professional athletes despite language barriers and age differences, she said.
“Especially last year when I practiced with them every day, I got to know a couple of them really closely, but they all speak Creole, so there’s kind of a language barrier you have to conquer, but through soccer anything is helpful,” Wright said. “It was great to see, hey, we have something in common, we’re playing together.”
Team manager Sharon Mast said Wright found her niche in the team dynamic.
“I was very impressed with how she held herself together and really participated with our girls,” Mast said. “She’s wonderful. I love her to pieces … She’s not a very outspoken person on the field but she’s seemed to develop and come along in that way.”
Wright said her family completely supported her determination “to get [the team] in gear to train with so they could have the best possible chance of qualifying for the World Cup.” She said both her brother and sister have spent time practicing with the women as well.
“My family helped me out a ton; my sister did a ton of organizing for all this stuff,” she said. “I was actually out of town when the sale happened, so I relied on my dad and my sister to get everything for me. I told them what we needed, and it was really great. … It’s kind of become a family affair.”
Wright tried to coordinate with administrators at Notre Dame to encourage the donation of old equipment to the team, but she said she typically faced rejection. She said the end result proved each disappointment was worth her and her family’s effort.
“The smiles on their faces were so worth all the work, all the emails, all the no’s that I got,” Wright said. “Everything where I couldn’t get something accomplished and I had to email people and go outside my comfort zone. It was definitely worth it to see them all at practice the one day I gave them all the gear and they saw and they thought, ‘oh my gosh, we get all this.’ They were all so thankful for it.”
To donate to Wright’s fund to support the Haitian women’s national soccer team, visit http://www.gofundme.com/bln73s.